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The Battle of the Trench (Al-Ahzaab)


category: History & Biographies


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The battle of the Trench (Al-Khandaq), or, of the Clans (Al-Ahzaab) (Ibn Hisham, Vol. II, p. 214), as it is sometimes called, took place in the month of Shawwal, 5 A.H. Such armed discord was frought with great difficulties and overcome with comparable courage. It forged and tested the fortitude and patience of the Muslims that would later prove to be of immense benefit to them not only in winning over the Arabian Peninsula as regards their faith but also in taking its message to the distant lands. It was a decisive conflict between Islam and disbelief; of light versus darkness, whereby Muslims were put to the most crucial tests and times never ever experienced before, exactly as the Qur'an states:

“When they came upon you from above you and from below you and when eyes grew wild and hearts reached to the throats and ye were imagining vain thoughts concerning Allah.

“There were the believers sorely tried, and shaken with a mighty shock,” [Qur'an 33:10-11]

The Jews were the real instigators of hostilities leading to the Battle of the Trench. Certain persons belonging to Bani an-Nadir and Bani Wa’il, who made no secret to see the Muslims eliminated, called upon the Quraysh of Makkah and invited them to annihilate the Muslims altogether. At first, the Quraysh did not show much interest in the proposal for they had already twice exchanged and measured swords with the Muslims. But the Jews painted a tempting scenario of the event by promising the support of all the Jewish settlements in Arabia for standing together in eliminating the Muslims once and for all. The Quraysh ultimately agreed to their suggestion. The deputation of the Jews then went to the great desert tribe of Ghatfan and urged them to join in the expedition for the destruction of Yathrib. They called upon all the clans of Ghatfan, assiduously inviting them to join the Quraysh in their combined drive against Islam. (Ibn Hisham, Vol. II, pp. 214-15)

An alliance was thus formed among the Quraysh, the Jews and the Ghatfan to wage a total war against the Muslims. An important clause of the agreement made for the joint venture was that the Ghatfan would muster six thousand soldiers for the military operations while the Jews would give them a whole year’s harvest of Khaybar to compensate for the expenses incurred by them. The Quraysh, on their part, agreed to contribute four thousand combatants. A strong army of ten thousand was thus mobilized and Abu Sufyan assumed command over the combined force. (Ibn Hisham, Vol. II, pp. 219-15)


When the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) learned of the Jews’ evil designs to wipe the Muslims out of existence, he conferred with his companions (radiallahu 'anhum) on how to take the threat. It was decided that they launch a defensive war resisting the attack of the enemy against the city instead of facing the coalition in a pitched battle outside Madeenah. So the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) assembled a force of three thousand armed men in defense of the city.

A Persian companion called Salman (radiallahu 'anhu), advised digging a trench along the side of Madeenah which was laid open to cavalry attack. (Ibn Hisham, Vol. pp. 224). This advice was well-known to the Iranians.(11) Salman is reported to have said: “Prophet of God, when we feared a charge by the cavalry we used to dig trenches to keep the invaders at bay.”

The Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) agreed to his suggestion and decided to have a trench dug in the open ground lying to the north of Madeenah. The city was exposed to assault only on that side and was well protected to the west, south and east by clumped plantations, volcanic rocky plains and granitic hills, presenting a considerable obstacle to the cause of a mounted army.(12)

The Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) marked the planned ditch and assigned every group of ten persons to dig forty cubits. (Ibn Kathir, Vol. III, p. 192) The length of the trench was about five thousand cubits, its depth varied between seven to ten cubits and the width was normally nine cubits or a little more. (Ghazwah Ahzab by Ahmad Ba-Shum’il)


The Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) himself helped the respective groups digging the portions of trench allotted to them. Although the winter season that had set in was extremely harsh (Ibn Hisham, Vol. II, p. 216) and the impoverished Muslims had but little provisions to satisfy their hunger, the work proceeded smoothly owing to the enthusiasm and perseverance of the volunteers.

Abu Talha (radiallahu 'anhu) relates that once when he was exhausted by hunger, he complained to the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) and showed his belly on which he had tied a slab of stone for allaying the uneasy sensation. The Prophet of God (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) then showed him his own belly on which he had tied two slabs of rock!(13)

But, everybody was happy and contented in spite of these deprivations. The Prophet’s companions (radiallahu 'anhum) sang songs of pride (Called Rajz) and chanted praises of God to keep themselves busy in their task without a word of complaint from their lips.

Anas (radiallahu 'anhu) relates that once, the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) came to the place where they were digging the trench. He saw the Ansaar and the Muhaajirun working hard to complete their work despite the piercing coldness of the chilly morning for they had neither slaves nor servants to dig the trench for them.

Seeing how they were laboring with their empty stomachs, the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) said: “O Allah, life is truly the life of the Hereafter; so pardon the Ansaar and the Muhajirin.” Overjoyed to hear the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) invoking forgiveness for them, the people present there said in reply: “It is we who have pledged to Muhammad, to fight in Jihad till the spark of life is imbued.” (Al-Bukhaari, Kitab ul-Maghazi, Chap. Ghazwatul Khandaq).

Anas (radiallahu 'anhu) further said that if one of them happened to procure a handful of barley, he used to grind and mix it with a little fat to be shared by all enduring its offensive smell and taste in the process.


A large rock was causing great difficulty in digging the trench for the pick mattock could not break it. When the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) was informed about it, he went down into the trench and struck the stone with the pickax breaking one-third of the rock. Thereupon the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) said, “Glory be to God, the keys of Syria have been given to me.” With the second blow of the pick, the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) hewed another one-third of the rock and said, “Glory be to God, the keys of Persia have been given to me. By God, I see white castle of Mada’in (Ctesiphon).” In the third attempt, the remaining portion of the rock was broken into pieces. The Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) then said, “Glory be to God, I have been given the keys of Yemen. By God, I can now see the gate of Sana’a. (Ibn Kathir, Vol. III, p. 194)

At a time when this prediction was made, no prophecy could be more significant from the way things fall. Meager diet and bleak weather then emaciated the Muslims, especially its army. And advancing against the not too well-fortified city was threatening to deal a death-blow upon its defenders.


The companions of the prophet (radiallahu 'anhum) witnessed a number of other miracles while digging the trench. Whenever a group felt any difficulty owing to the existence of any rock which they could not break or remove, the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) asked for some water and mixed a little of his saliva into it. Then he prayed as God willed him to pray and sprinkled the water on the rock which then pulverized like a heap of sand. (Ibn Hisha, Vol. II, pp. 217-18)

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